City-Builders are a genre that I just love getting into. Understanding the mechanics, building up a civilisation, managing the crap out of your game and trying to satisfy all the needs is just… a lot of fun. The reason for that is the concept of the unsolvable problem. There is always something that needs to be done – and thus, you seldom run out of things you could do.
But it’s even better when you have a mission of sorts or a goal to work towards. Some city builders want you to survive droughts (Timerborn) or a Zombie Apocalypse (There are Billions) – but have you ever tried to cure Zombies instead of destroying them?
Zombie Cure Lab is a vibrant sandbox lab-builder that lets you do just that. It’s ironic yet in-depth with many gimmicks that make it frankly charming. It’s set in a Zombie Apocalypse but I haven’t really seen many games yet (I can’t remember any, actually, off the top of my head) where you capture and cure Zombies to turn them back into humans, especially not in the City Builder genre, so naturally, I was incredibly intrigued by this title developed by Thera Bytes!
Developer: Thera Bytes Publisher: Aerosoft Genre: Indie, Colony Sim, City Builder, Simulation, Early Access, Management Release Date: December 7th, 2022 Reviewed on: PC Available on: PC Copy was provided by StridePR.
Note: The images in this review were taken from the Press Kit provided by StridePR.
All beginning is hard and Zombie Cure Lab makes no exception. The idea of the beginning stages requires some management and lots of planning. You place down your storage areas, your hauling post and your resource post… and you then basically get right into the game.
Setting up camp in an area that is not only easily defendable but also abundant in resources is key – and your starting base actually comes with its own fences, meaning you won’t have to worry about Zombies for the first night. In fact, it’s highly encouraged that you plan out your initial layout to satisfy your scientists’ needs.
That’s already where this game is fairly unique. You don’t have citizens and workers and whatnot at your disposal… No, in fact, your workers/citizens are scientists! They do the science stuff to cure Zombies… and they’re from Canada, which is great because I love Canadian accents. Sadly, they don’t talk.
Scientists, however, can’t go without food and they can’t work non-stop, meaning that you’ll need to set up three distinct rooms for them: A Kitchen, a Bedroom, and a Lab.
You essentially place down these in your building menu, add different structures into them, and pray for the best! The starting resources usually let you build the lab of your dreams but you may run out of resources along the way while trying to build something else. Hence, the Resource Post is where scientists are assigned at to gather resources such as wood, metal, stone, food and glow berries from nearby areas. The Hauling Post distributes them afterwards… and in the Lab, scientists will produce science points that you utilize to unlock new technologies.
Alas, night comes and you have to be careful as Zombies may attack your base at any point in time. It’s scary to be in a Zombie Apocalypse, after all, for the night is long and full of terrors (sorry, had to!) – which is why you need to set up defences for your base. There are towers you place down near walls and gates that scientists can man to freeze Zombies. Yes, you heard me, freeze. Ultimately, this is because we need Zombies in one piece to cure them in our lab.
Curing requires some resources and different stages. When Zombies make it through the first stage after being thawed from the icy stage they get captured in, they turn into Level 1 Humbies. Human-Zombie-Hybrids! These are not fully cured yet (that requires further resources and curing) but they are still useful.
Humbies can be put to work as additional labour forces and you can also send them back to HQ to earn progress towards the Cure… which means that you essentially capture and “kinda cure” Zombies to then send them to HQ where they work on the better Cure… and once you did that enough, you can unlock a better Lab (again, requiring lots of resources) where you then have access to new technologies… some of which can help you defend your base better, cure Humbies further… or even improve your scientists’ work-life-balance.
Management of all these different jobs and people is key, though. So, you’ll need to be aware of priorities, day/night shifts and what jobs some people do exactly. A lot of this is already quite in-depth and feels nice… but I’d love it if I could manage jobs RimWorld-style via a quick menu – something that is in the game but it’s not exactly to my liking. Oxygen Not Included, a game that this title takes inspiration from, also has job priorities – so I’d love to see more stuff like this being added to the game throughout Early Access.
But, as you may have noticed throughout the review, Zombie Cure Lab has an issue… and that is resources.
You require a lot of different things. At times, it’s power. Other times, it’s glow berries or wood. This is fine theoretically… but I’d like more speed-up options since the game on 3x speed is still not too fast. Actually, the bigger issue (and I reported this as feedback to the devs already) is that to unlock Stage 2 of the Lab, you require A LOT of wood. Early on when you don’t have a Forester or something like that, that takes a lot of time and is frankly a bit boring.
When you’re waiting for the Lab Stage 2 unlock, you don’t have much to do really… and thus, I’d suggest that some of these wood costs should get reduced to maybe 25% of what it’s at right now. I mean, it took me a while to get to 1000 wood… Nice. Looking at the Stage 2 upgrade, though, that apparently is not enough… I frankly found this to be a bit too grindy. So, the game requires a bit of tweaking in that regard.
Apart from that, the game also features a few bugs but that’s only natural for an Early Access title. More importantly, some of the colours in the build menu are too bright and make it hard to see where the input and access point for structures are. Some tweaking here or maybe options to choose your own colour for these buildings would be much appreciated, especially when it comes to accessibility and colour blindness and stuff.
I don’t know if it’s too much to ask but something that I’d love to see here is an option that allows you to change the gamma and saturation of the zones – or to maybe even chose colours or at least apply a hue shift. That way, I could make it all purple if I wanted to… or people can make it so that the colours they can’t see too well get adjusted so that they can.
At last, I’d like it a lot if there was a little overlay (possibly accessed through F1 or a “?” button somewhere) that shows what everything does. The tutorial is amazing, don’t get me wrong! BUT it took me a few hours to realise that I don’t have to destroy buildings and that I can move them to a different place instead of destroying and rebuilding them… and I didn’t know there’s an option to extend rooms. It’s very easy to miss!
Overall, though, I really enjoyed my time with Zombie Cure Lab! I can see where its inspirations are (Prison Architect, Timberborn, Two Point Hospital, Dungeon Keeper, etc.) and I love what they’re doing with the game. I liked how goofy the Zombies look (very reminiscent of Plants vs Zombies). I enjoyed my time quite a bit here. Frankly, I want to highly recommend Zombie Cure Lab to anyone that enjoys games like Timberborn, Two Point Hospital and maybe even Oxygen Not Included.
It may not be the most in-depth yet but the roadmap for the Early Access stage (which already has roughly 20+ hours of content in it) looks incredibly promising!